Qatari diplomat was on way to meet with jailed terrorist

Won’t be charged for bomb scare on US airliner

According to law enforcement officials, diplomat Mohammed Al-Madadi joked that he had been trying to light his shoe — an apparent reference to the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid. According to law enforcement officials, diplomat Mohammed Al-Madadi joked that he had been trying to light his shoe — an apparent reference to the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid.
By Matthew Lee and P. Solomon Banda
Associated Press / April 9, 2010

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WASHINGTON — A Qatari diplomat was on his way to an official visit with an imprisoned Al Qaeda sleeper agent when he touched off a bomb scare by slipping into an airline bathroom for a smoke, officials said yesterday as the diplomat prepared to leave the United States.

The diplomat, Mohammed Al-Madadi, was going to pay a consular visit to the prisoner, said Alison Bradley, a public relations executive hired to speak for the Qatari Embassy, and a State Department official.

The prisoner, Ali Al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar, is serving eight years after pleading guilty last year to conspiring to support terrorism. Marri, who was arrested after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is accused of being a sleeper agent researching poisonous gases and plotting a cyberattack.

Consular officials frequently visit foreigners held in the United States to make sure they are being treated well.

Bradley said Qatari diplomats have made multiple visits to Marri in prison since he pleaded guilty. The right to such visits is guaranteed by international agreements, and the US Bureau of Prisons had approved this visit by Madadi in advance, Bradley added.

Questions remained about why a diplomat on an official trip would apparently flout airline security rules. Law enforcement officials said Madadi later joked that he had been trying to light his shoe — an apparent reference to the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid, of 2001.

The US officials who discussed the case did so on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

No explosives were found on the plane, and authorities said they don’t think Madadi was trying to hurt anyone during Wednesday’s scare. He enjoys diplomatic immunity from US prosecution and will not be criminally charged, authorities said.

The State Department official said Qatar had not yet informed the administration how it will handle the case but has assured the United States that Madadi will leave the country.

“We fully expect this will be resolved very quickly,’’ P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesman, told reporters.

Crowley said the US government is satisfied that the Qatari government is taking the matter seriously.

Wednesday’s scare occurred three months after a Nigerian man allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab went to the bathroom just before he allegedly tried to ignite a bomb in his seat. Since then, law enforcement, flight crews, and passengers have been on high alert for suspicious activity on airplanes. That scare exposed major holes in the country’s national security and prompted immediate changes in terror-screening policies.

Some air travelers at Denver International Airport yesterday were amazed that Madadi would not be charged.

“I think it’s wrong. I’d get busted. I don’t think that [immunity] should be a factor,’’ said one of them, Hank DePetro, a retired psychologist from Greeley, Colo.

Under international protocol — the 1961 Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations — diplomats in foreign countries enjoy broad immunity from prosecution. That immunity can be waived only by a diplomat’s home government, something that is rarely requested and even more rarely granted. US officials have not exercised their right to expel him from the country.

Qatar, which is about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined and has a population of about 1.4 million, is an oil-rich Middle East nation and key US ally. It is on the Arabian peninsula, bordered on three sides by the Persian Gulf and to the south by Saudi Arabia. The country hosts the forward headquarters of US Central Command, which runs the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and is a major supporter of operations deemed critical to both campaigns.

Qatar’s ambassador to the United States, Ali Bin Fahad Al-Hajri, cautioned against a rush to judgment. “This diplomat was traveling to Denver on official embassy business on my instructions, and he was certainly not engaged in any threatening activity,’’ he said in a statement. “The facts will reveal that this was a mistake.’’

Madadi is the embassy’s third secretary, a relatively junior position.